Thank you so very much.
General Pace, I appreciate your very generous remarks so much. It is a privilege for me to be working with you.
The truth is that when General Dick Myers came up for retirement as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, President Bush and I talked at great length and very carefully about the top talent in the United States Armed Forces and who might be the best person to lead the Armed Forces and serve as the most senior military officer in our country in a time of war. And after careful consideration we decided to send in the Marines.
As I’m sure you know, Pete Pace is the first Marine to ever serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the President’s top military advisor, the first in history. And I think you’ll all agree with me that General Pete Pace is doing an absolutely superb job for our country.
And I should add that Pete Pace and Lynne Pace are celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary later this month. From where I sit I think he’s just getting started and Pete, I appreciate the fact that you’ve resisted the habit that your predecessor, Dick Myers adopted. Dick seemed to enjoy introducing me as the only human being who ever served as Secretary of Defense in two centuries.
It’s good to see Senator Leahy here and Commissioner Kelly. Rush Limbaugh, the famous Rush Limbaugh and Monica Crowley are here; Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps and so many distinguished guests.
General Mike Hagee, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, where are you, Mike? I can’t see you, but you’re here, I know.
General Jim Jones, the former Commandant and the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe. Where’s, Jim? There you are. Stand up, stand up and let people see you, Jim. There you go.
And so many others whose service we appreciate so greatly.
Back in the 1950’s when I was in the Navy, I think probably back in those days the most senior officer I ever saw was a four striped Captain in the Navy or a Colonel in the Marines I must say that when I’m around all these generals I still look down at my shoes to see if their shined. I can’t help it, it’s instinct.
Gentleman, your presence here and the attendance of all of you here tonight is certainly a testament to the importance of this Foundation and its work. The mission it performs year in and year out.
Jim, my thanks to you and my thanks to Mrs. Lerner, for your leadership and your sponsorship, and my appreciation as well to all of those here today who’ve demonstrated their support and their concern for the families of those who are defending our country and indeed defending our way of life.
The Pentagon established the Hall of Heroes that lists on the walls the names of every American who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor -- a recognition that President Harry Truman once said was more prestigious than even the Presidency. And on those walls at the Pentagon are the names of, I’m told, five men that here this evening. Gentlemen, it is truly an honor for me to be with you. When your country called upon you, you answered
And throughout history, when our nation looks for stirring stories of heroism and valor, the finest examples of military service, they will look to you. So we thank you for your outstanding service to our country and to the cause of human freedom. Would you please stand up, the five medal of honor winners?
I am greatly honored to accept this award this evening, named for a distinguished philanthropist -- Mr. Alfred Lerner. I recognize that I’m in very distinguished and excellent company when I see the names of the previous recipients.
And while I’m honored to receive the award, I do feel that I’m accepting it on behalf of the outstanding men and women who serve in our country’s uniform. Each is a volunteer, every one. Each raised their hand and said, “Send me.” And our country is truly blessed to have such wonderful young people, and their families, so willing to sacrifice for the cause of human freedom.
Those young people deployed today have a good deal in common with those of you who make up this organization -- Marines and law enforcement officers, alike. Each of you has volunteered to serve, each of you has stood on the front lines of freedom’s defense and we are deeply in your debt.
This city, of course, was scarred by one of the most horrific attacks ever to take place on American soil. About a year ago I met a man named John Vigiano former fire captain with Ladder 176 here in New York City. He’s also a former Marine. He told me about two young men who had died in the World Trade Center on September 11th. One was a fire fighter and the other a police officer. Both were his sons.
He and his wife celebrated their first Christmas after the attack near the World Trade Center, the ruins. They wanted to be close to their boys.
We must never forget what was lost that day. And we must never forget what our enemies would do if they are able and allowed to develop the ability to inflict still greater damage on our nation.
We are united in a common cause -- indeed it is the great calling of our time. To face the enemy more ruthless than perhaps any other in our history -- who have no territory to defend, little to lose. And they are seeking the world’s most dangerous weapons, let there be no doubt.
Should they be successful in deploying just one of those weapons on our shores, they could change our way of life for some time to come. The question we have to ask is whether we want to face that enemy
On our terms or on theirs.
On their territory or on our territory.
Where we are on the offense or where we’re on the defense.
The only way to win this war, in my view, is to be on the offense and to go after them where they are as President Bush has said.
Those who plotted September 11th thought that our losses, and the images that still linger in our minds, would be too much for the American people to bear. They believed that they could terrorize free people, and change the way we live our lives, and that we would turn our backs on the freedom and the openness that represents the very essence of what we are as a people. One of their leaders called America a “paper tiger.”
But they did not really understand the American people very well. Or our brave law enforcement officers. And they certainly did not understand the United States Marines.
For centuries, America’s armed forces, the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines have answered the call to defend our people, and the freedoms for which our ancestors shed blood -- against tyrants, Nazis, Communists. And today, America’s armed forces are answering that call again.
I know there’s a debate in our country today about America’s responsibility in the world. Debates can be a good thing. But in the end, free nations, even those as strong as ours, cannot long survive in a world dominated by tyrannies and terrorists.
When considering the tasks before us it’s useful to ask:
Would America be more or less safe today if we had allowed Europe to be dominated by the Nazis or the Communists?
Would America have more or fewer friends in the world today if we had not taken the risks to rebuild Germany, and Japan and South Korea or if we had abandoned Eastern Europe?
Would America be a more or less credible force today if we had allowed Saddam Hussein and his regime to continue to defy international sanctions; to shoot every week at American and British aircraft, which they were doing; to invade its neighbors; to reward the families of suicide bombers, they were paying $25,000 to any family of suicide bombers and to murder hundreds of thousands of Iraqis that we’ve since found in the mass graves and use chemical weapons against their own people.
We know the answers to those questions. Americans don’t shy away from leadership.
When the enemy attacked Pearl Harbor, our country did not choose to look the other way. When Britain required aid, we didn’t say, “Go it alone.” US Marines didn’t refuse to capture Iwo Jima because the fighting might be too hard. And when a dictator invaded Kuwait and threatened still more of its neighbors, America did not say, “Let’s not get involved.” And today we will not tell 50 million Afghans and Iraqis, that because the going is tough, and it is tough going, that they cannot count on America. We’ll not tell them that.
In Iraqi, democracy has not been tried and found impossible. It has been tried and found difficult. Well, freedom is difficult. We know that. History tells us that.
After September 11th, President Bush understood that we would not defeat terrorists if the major region in the world that trained and recruited terrorists was forever dominated by tyrants.
So to those who have served in Afghanistan here this evening or in Iraq know that what you do is of importance. And to those who have friends or family there today, please let them know how proud they should be of their noble work.
Proud of liberating 50 million people from tyranny, mass graves and oppression;
Proud of the women in Afghanistan and Iraq who wept with joy about the hope they now have for their children and
Proud that they have helped to light a spark of freedom, a spark that can transform what once were two of freedom’s most bitter enemies into allies in the war against violent extremism.
What those brave souls are doing in Afghanistan, and Iraq, is making the American people safer. Let there be no doubt!.
They’re engaged in a noble effort in the name of those who lost their lives here in New York City, in that field in Pennsylvania, near Shanksville, and in the Pentagon.
One of the people on the plane that crashed that day was Zoe Falkenberg. She was traveling with her mother and father and her 3-year-old sister. She was on the swimming team. She’d been soccer player. She was in her grade school’s production of “The King and I.” She was 8 years old.
And like other children who died that day, she had hopes and she had dreams and she lived in a nation where she had the right and the opportunity to pursue those dreams. That is what is so very special about America. And that is what those who took her life, and the lives of so many others that day and in the days that have followed are striving to deny us. Our obligation is to keep those dreams secure.
Our troops understand that. Earlier I mentioned a former Marine who had lost two sons -- a fire fighter and a police officer on September 11th. Well, there’s a bit more to that story. It seems he and a woman named Christy Ferer joined a USO tour that traveled to Iraq to meet with the troops. They joined well-known celebrities, Robert De Niro and Wayne Newton. And Christy Ferer wondered how she and the other 9/11 family members would be received by the troops -- especially when they came with people of such prominent backgrounds as Wayne Newton and Robert De Niro.
Well, it turns out that when the 9/11 families were announced, the troops swarmed around them. A number told Christy that they had joined the military after September 11. One young man showed her a bracelet engraved with a name of someone he had never known who had died that terrible day.
I mention that because it’s important to know that our troops do know what’s at stake in this struggle. They know the importance of the struggle. They remember what we’ve lost. They’re committed to doing all they can to keep our people safe.
Our country is truly blessed by all of those on watch tonight throughout the world. And by those like you here this evening, who have kept them and their families in your daily thoughts and prayers.
I thank you so much. May God bless you and may God continue to bless our wonderful country.